In Sicilia: Arrival

Fountain near via Butera

Fountain near via Butera

December 28-29, 2016

The wait at JFK for our flight to Palermo (via Rome) was a trial, to say the least. The concession stand food was uniformly bleak. Everywhere you looked, TV screens set to CNN, though on mute, displayed irritating crawls. One TV, sound on, flooded the waiting area with insipid shopping prattle. The desk clerk of whom I asked whether there was a place free of the noise looked at me as if to say, “Are you crazy? Just imagine what it’s like for me, working here all day.”

Fiumcino Airport, Rome

Fiumcino Airport, Rome

Landing at the sleek Fiumcino airport in Rome, we felt as if we’d been airlifted out of a blasted heath—or, to borrow Lampedusa’s words, out of “an open heath swept by searing winds”—and dropped into the civilized world. Not a single TV screen to be seen, and no piped-in music. A young man at a grand piano, on offer for anyone to play, performed with skill sufficient to prompt a passer-by to hum along. With cappuccinos and a sandwich to share from a concession stand in hand, we sat near a shop that sold elegant handbags and watched as people stopped to window-shop, and every now and then to buy.

view from window at Butera 28

view from Butera 28 window

We arrived at Butera 28, our quarters in Palermo, settled in, and strolled out to find a place to eat. The places recommended were booked up, so we chose another on Piazza Marina, the name of which I don’t recall. We reserved for the earliest possible time and, on arrival, had the place to ourselves. A thin slice of lightly seasoned swordfish, crayfish, and calamari, a piece of sponge cake dusted with chocolate, and an after dinner cordial, compliments of the house, persuaded us we’d indeed managed to escape, at least for a time.

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Listening List

Ottorino Respighi’s Feste Romane (1928)

On Spotify here.

Orchestration: 3 flutes (3rd also piccolo), 2 oboes, English horn, piccolo clarinet (D), 2 clarinets (B♭, A), bass clarinet (B♭), 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns (F), 4 trumpets (B♭, C, A), 3 trombones, tuba, 3 soprano buccine (B♭), timpani, triangle, tambourine, sleigh bells, ratchet, tenor and snare drum, wood blocks (high and low), cymbals, bass drum with cymbals, tam-tam, glockenspiel, tubular bells, xylophone, piano (2 players, 4 hands), organ, mandolin, strings

The four movements are:

  1. Circenses (Circuses)
  2. Giubilio (Jubilee)
  3. L’Ottorbrata (October Festival)
  4. La Befana (The Epiphany)

Respighi’s description of the four movements:

“Games at the Circus Maximus — A threatening sky hangs over the Circus Maximus, but it is the people’s holiday: “Ave, Nero!” The iron doors are unlocked, the strains of a religious song and the howling of wild beasts float on the air. The crowd rises in agitation: unperturbed, the song of the martyrs develops, conquers, and then is lost in the tumult.

“The Jubilee — The pilgrims trail along the highway, praying. Finally, from the summit of Monte Mario, the holy city appears to ardent eyes and gasping souls: “Rome, Rome!” A hymn of praise bursts forth, the churches ring out their reply.

“The October Festival — The October festival in the Roman castelli covered with vines, hunting echoes, tinkling of bells, songs of love. Then in the tender evenfall arises a romantic serenade.

“The Epiphany — The night before Epiphany in the Piazza Navona: a characteristic rhythm of trumpets dominates the frantic clamor; above the swelling noise float, from time to time, rustic motives, saltarello cadences, the strains of a barrel-organ from a booth, the barker’s call, the harsh song of the intoxicated, and the lively verse in which is expressed popular sentiments. “Lassàtece passà, semo Romani!” — “We are Romans, let us pass!”

Full program notes may be found here and here.

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Credits: The sources for quotations may be found at the links indicated in the text. The photograph of the cordial is from Josie Holford. The remaining photographs, as always on the blog unless otherwise indicated, are mine.